IMAGES of last week’s brutal slaying in Karachi of clerics belonging to Jamia Binnoria, caught by security cameras, are still fresh in the mind. Though the footage was recorded by cameras installed at a marriage hall near the scene of the crime, the incident has raised legitimate questions about the effectiveness of closed circuit television camera networks, particularly the official networks on which public money has been spent. Two such CCTV networks exist in the metropolis; one run by the city government and the other belonging to the police, which has not yet been ‘officially’ launched. But these as well as cameras installed at private facilities such as banks have failed to help in reducing crime, even though in many instances the faces of the culprits are clearly visible on camera. What is the utility of having a CCTV network if it is not used to identify and track down criminals? Such footage practically becomes excellent prime-time viewing, with the electronic media using it to draw more viewers. Surely there is a more constructive use for security cameras.
CCTV footage can play an integral role in beating crime and terrorism. The London tube and bus bombings of 2005, after which investigators sifted through extensive footage to zero in on the perpetrators, are a prime example of how to use the technology. But far from the potential of this technology being put to efficient use in a country that desperately needs effective crime detection, quite often it turns out that cameras that could have recorded footage are not even in working order. Now that the money has already been spent, the existing CCTV network in Karachi needs to be put to some good use by developing a comprehensive and integrated database. Further, no more money ought to be spent on them until law enforcement authorities come up with some data on how useful they have been. Not just in Karachi but to a lesser extent in some other urban centres too, law enforcement personnel tout CCTV networks as an important crime fighting measure. But are they actually any good? The public needs to be told.